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Guatemala hails vote to send Belize border dispute to international court

© AFP | Members of Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal sing the national anthem before a referendum on how to settle a border dispute with Belize

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) - 

Guatemala's president on Monday hailed as a victory for democracy a referendum vote in favor of sending a border dispute with Belize to the International Court of Justice.

The disagreement, whose roots go back two centuries, has seen tensions spike from time to time. Two years ago Guatemala mobilized 3,000 troops along the densely forested and unmarked border zone after an incident in which a Guatemalan teen was fatally shot.

A Belize border patrol had opened fire under being shot at, but an investigation by the Organization of American States ended up finding it not responsible for the teen's death.

The referendum was agreed under a 2008 accord to send the dispute to The Hague-based ICJ, if the populations of Guatemala and Belize approved.

Belize has not yet set a date for its referendum, although officials say it could take place next year.

Guatemalans voted Sunday to send the case to the court, but turnout was a paltry 26 percent. The vote in favor was 96 percent.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales on Monday called the vote "a success because democracy was strengthened and the national identity was reaffirmed".

The ambassador from Belize, Alexis Rosado, welcomed the vote as living up to a commitment. "Later it will be our turn," he said.

Analysts here say it could a decade to resolve the dispute in The Hague.

© 2018 AFP